Topics > River Murray > Improving river health > Wetlands and floodplains

South Australian Riverland Floodplains Integrated Infrastructure Program (SARFIIP)

The South Australian Riverland Floodplains Integrated Infrastructure Program (SARFIIP) was a $155 million integrated environmental works and measures program funded by the Australian Government through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and implemented by the South Australian Government. It was designed to improve the resilience of key Riverland floodplains under reduced frequency of overbank flows and protracted low-flow conditions, and contribute to the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

A century of river regulation and increasing consumptive use of water throughout the Murray-Darling Basin has resulted in a dramatic reduction in overbank flows. The health of the River Murray floodplain in the Riverland has deteriorated substantially due to changed flow regimes and elevated salinity of groundwater. SARFIIP constructed environmental regulators and blocking banks to allow inundation of large areas of the floodplains, as well as saline groundwater management mechanisms to manage any salinity impacts from inundation.

The Pike Floodplain and the Katarapko Floodplain in South Australia were identified as locations suitable for environmental management using regulating structures and complementary groundwater management.

With relatively modest flows to South Australia, infrastructure constructed under SARFIIP has enabled floodplain inundation to occur on a scale only otherwise possible during much higher flow events. This is helping to restore floodplain health and support recruitment and breeding for a variety of plants and animals.

Results so far

High flows from 2021 provided opportunities for the full suite of SARFIIP infrastructure to be operated to maximise high flows and to monitor the early results from the SARFIIP investment.

The 2022-23 River Murray flood event also provided an opportunity to test the infrastructure’s ability to withstand flood conditions and was a great foundation for ongoing operations.

The preliminary results of the ecological response to water delivery using the SARFIIP infrastructure have been promising.

SARFIIP inundation enables carbon, nutrients and invertebrates to be transferred from the inundated floodplains back into the main river channel to support the riverine and estuarine food webs. Fishways incorporated into the new SARFIIP infrastructure and the increased flows through the anabranches support native fish movement between the river and through the anabranches.

At the Pike Floodplain, vegetation such as lignum responds positively to the inundation and can now be seen thriving throughout the floodplain. Flooded lignum provides great habitat for many native species, including the vulnerable southern bell frog, which have been recorded calling at Mundic Creek, Tanyaca Creek, Snake Creek and Pike River.

At Katarapko, SARFIIP environmental regulators contribute to a range of positive responses, these include the increased flows and associated greater connectivity between the river, creeks, wetlands and floodplain, which benefits native fish movement and breeding.

The environmental water regulating structures at Pike and Katarapko are effective in increasing floodplain inundation. When combined with new and updated management plans that are integrated with weir pool manipulation and multi-site operation, the long-term legacy and benefit of the work undertaken as part of SARFIIP is significant.

Community at the core

The River Murray is at the heart of many Riverland communities and SARFIIP engaged a range of community groups from irrigators to tourism operators, environmental groups, recreational river users, landholders and First Nations people. Engagement, informing and working directly with the local community as implementing partners was central to SARFIIP’s design and delivery. Managing relationships with those directly impacted by SARFIIP and involving the community on project working groups, reference groups, environmental surveys and working with First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee were all critical in the successful design and implementation of SARFIIP.

To learn more about SARFIIP you can access the SARFIIP Outcomes and Achievements Report here.